Sunday, December 31, 2006

Belichick-Mangini, Part III

The real season starts in a little more than 14 minutes, which is the amount of time remaining in a very boring Packers-Bears game. John Madden and Al Michaels just began their 72nd conversation tonight on the topic of whether Brett Favre will come back next year. What a joke - the guy will be back. Book it.

The playoff matchups are officially set, and there will be an intriguing grudge match with the Jets visiting Foxborough next Sunday. I can already see the stories this week in the local rags - the Belichick-Mangini feud, the HC of the NYJ, the references to Tuna's stint as the HC of the NYJ, the Chad Pennington and Troy Brown/"We Are Marshall" angles, etc. It's gonna be a fun week of reading.

The other AFC matchup next weekend puts the Kansas City Chiefs (thank you, Denver!) in Indy on Saturday to play the Colts. Larry Johnson must be licking his lips already waiting to run on that defense. In the weak-sister NFC, it's Giants-Eagles on Sunday, and Cowboys-Seahawks Saturday night. As always, should be verrrrry interesting.

Pats Romp in Nashville

The story line going into today's regular season finale revolved around to what extent Bill Belichick would mail it in for this one. The Pats already had the 4-seed wrapped up - with a potential first-round home playoff game against the Jets or the Broncos - and the goal at the end of the season (funny, the goal is the same during the pre-season) is to get through the last game injury-free. Thus, it stood to reason that Tom Brady would get a healthy blow after the unhealthy blow he took from a Jags LB last week. And it would have been perfectly logical to see reduced playing time for Laurence Maroney, who is coming off an injury, and for the stalwarts on D, guys like Bruschi, Vrabel, and Seymour. In fact, the Curly Haired one opined in the Globe today that the Patriots would totally mail it in. And of course, he was wrong.

If the Pats could elevate themselves to the three-seed, they'd probably get the Jets at home and then the Ravens on the road. At four, they'd play Denver at home and then have to travel to San Diego. The first path is easier, without question, and maybe that's why the Pats went with their regulars today longer than we all expected, and as a result laid the lumber on the playoff-hopeful Titans. Brady played three-plus quarters, Dillon and Maroney both ran effectively, and the D was its typical stingy self. The only problem was this Pacman Jones dude, who pretty much did whatever he wanted on kickoff and punt returns. Damn, he's good. In the end, the Pats won 40-23, and even ancient Vinny Testaverde got to throw a TD pass late in the game, one on which the Titans took umbrage. This was similar to coach Bill letting Flutie drop-kick last year against the Dolphins. Testaverde set a record with the TD pass, becoming the first QB in history to throw TD's in 20 straight seasons.

This one was also very chippy, which may partly explain why the Pats went for the final score with just over a minute left on the scoreboard. Pats safety Rodney Harrison was blocked low early in the game and left with an undisclosed injury. I didn't see the play - I was driving and had Gil and Gino on - but I read that Bruschi had a few choice words for the Tennessee sideline. I'm sure we'll be hearing more on this later. Two weeks in a row with mini-controversies. I wonder what the relationship is like between Belichick and Titans coach Jeff Fisher.

So now we're left to see how the Colts and Broncos fare in the 4:00 games. The Dolphins are giving Indy a battle, and it would certainly be sweet if the Pats could leapfrog the Colts into that third seed. Something tells me, though, that Peyton and his merry band of receivers will pull through. At last check, the Broncos were down to the 49ers, but with plenty of time to go. Not quite sure what happens if Denver blows it.

One more post tonight - before we turn the calendar and ring in 2007.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Let the Real Season Begin (NFL picks finale)

Well, another 9-7 weekly mark (hey, that would be far and away the best record in the NFC West) leaves the season record at 108-112-5. .500 is still in sight if I have my best week ever, though with the way this season has gone - the last Sunday in the NFL could put the exclamation point on what has been an absolute circus of a year. All you need to know is that it's still possible that a 7-9 NFC team could make the playoffs. Look for the playoff preview late Sunday night, sponsored by the MIT math club. The official playoff system is diagrammed on the right.

@Washington (+2.5) vs. NY Giants: Just for the sheer fun of watching the car crash that is the Giants. Yeah, it's a must-win game for them - once again - and yeah, they're probably more talented on paper than the Redskins, who are so bad that they're going to drive their Hall of Fame coach back to NASCAR. Logic says the Giants should rally and win - which is exactly why I'm picking the Redskins. (Saturday, TV, 8:00, NFL Network)

@Tennessee (-3) vs. New England: This may be the first time all year that I've gone against the Patriots, and I'm doing it because of the QB matchup. Vince Young vs. Matt Cassell. Yup, our golden boy Tom Brady is most likely going to sit out for a big chunk of this one after taking a hard hit last week against Jacksonville. With the Pats assured of at least the 4-seed in the AFC, there's simply no point risking the franchise. The leaders on D - Bruschi, Vrabel and Harrison - may also get a breather. On the other hand, Young has been absolutely amazing and with another win, can put his Titans in the playoff picture. Tennessee has much more to play for. (TV, 1:00, CBS)

Buffalo (+9) @ Baltimore: While everyone's talking about the Chargers, the Ravens are quietly emerging as a solid Super Bowl contender. They've always had the vicious defense, and now they've got Air McNair at the helm of the offense. All that said, I've been impressed with Buffalo's stick-to-itiveness this year and will take them to keep it somewhat close.

@New Orleans (+3) vs. Carolina: Let me get this straight - the Saints are getting three against the Panthers at home? I know New Orleans has already clinched a spot in the tournament, and my MIT math pals tell me that Carolina may still be alive, but still... the Saints demolished the Giants last week and will want to keep the momentum rolling as the playoffs start.

Green Bay (+3) @ Chicago: Will it be Rexie or Griese? Either way, the Bears have to be one of the least-respected No. 1 seeds of all time. They're heading into the playoffs with not a clue who their starting QB will be, which is a testament to their incredible defense. Will this be Brett Favre's last game in a Packers uniform? This game was moved to network TV and that's all we're going to hear about. Favre has a little Clemens in him - he'll be back. (TV, 8:15, NBC)

@Cincinnati (-6) vs. Pittsburgh: The Steelers had been on a major roll before they hit a speed bump known as the Ravens last week. Cincy, meanwhile, suffered a catastrophic loss last week in the snow in Denver when their holder couldn't catch the ball for an extra point. The Bengals' playoff hopes may have died in Denver, but they'll come out firing for this one.

Detroit (+12.5) @Dallas: What to make of the Cowboys' soap opera. A month ago, Tony Romo was the man, he was dating Jessica Simpson, Jerry Jones had a little kick in his step, and the Tuna was actually caught smiling on the sidelines. No more. Romo now has to settle for Carrie Underwood, Jones looks like a man who has eaten tainted seafood, Tuna is most definitely not smiling, and everyone on the Dallas offense is sniping about not getting enough touches. Somewhere, Drew Bledsoe is stifling a grin. The Cowboys would make a great NBA team. I'm going with the Lions to cover the dozen and a half. (TV, 1:00, Fox)

@Denver (-10.5) vs. San Francisco: Denver desperately needs this one and the shine seems to be wearing off the feel-good Niners. Perfect opportunity for Denver to put it together heading into the playoffs, where they will likely come to Foxborough next week to play the Patriots. Frank Gore could have some difficulty against Denver's strong rush defense. (TV, 4:15, Fox)

@Houston (-4) vs. Cleveland: Why is everyone wearing blue shirts at Texans Stadium? Oh, those are chair backs? I mean, it's New Year's weekend, and you're sitting home in Houston wondering what to do. Does Texans-Browns even make the top-20 list? What a stinker. On the bright side, maybe Romeo Crennel will come back to New England. Texans in a romp.

@Indianapolis (-9) vs. Miami: Peyton Manning vs. Cleo Lemon. Indy is the pick. (TV, 4:15, CBS)

@Kansas City (-2.5) vs. Jacksonville: Big game for both squads, whose playoff hopes are on life support. I was impressed with Jags RB Maurice Jones-Drew last weekend, but I can't root for good things to happen to caveman Jack Del Rio. Chiefs win a close one.

@NY Jets (-12.5) vs. Oakland: Lot of points, but the Jets know what's on the line today and won't be messing around. Art Shell's long nightmare is about to shut down... at least for a couple of months.

@Philadelphia (-8) vs. Atlanta: Philly may be playing the best ball of anyone right now - AFC or NFC - and they'll lay the lumber to the fraudulent, pathetic Falcons. Look for several Jeff Garcia fist-pumps throughout the course of this one. The Eagles put themselves in position to do some damage in the NFC dance.

St. Louis (-2.5) @Minnesota: The Rams have been your typical NFC team this year and need a win to close at .500. They'll be ready for this one on the road, and look for Steven Jackson to have a field day with a banged up Vikings defense. Whether it's good enough for the Rams to be in the playoffs, well, I'll again defer to my mathematician colleagues at MIT.

@San Diego (-13.5) vs. Arizona: The Chargers have been in the catbird seat all year long and will be looking to lock up home field throughout the playoffs. Again, lots of points to give up but these are the Arizona Cardinals after all. The Tomlinsons take it handily.

Seattle (+3.5) @Tampa Bay: The Seahawks could finish 8-8 this year and still host a playoff game in the first round. Unreal. Tampa Bay killed Cleveland last week, but everyone kills Cleveland. I'll take the Seahawks in this one.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jack (Ass) Del Rio

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio has made news around these parts lately for some of his moronic comments following last Sunday's Patriots win over his squad. In a game in which most of the officiating calls went his team's way, Del Rio chose to whine about the tremendous TD catch by Pats' backup TE David Thomas, and he cried about the last play of the game, where Pats' DE Jarvis Green stripped Jags QB David Garrard of the ball, which Rodney Harrison scooped up. On replay, the refs clearly got both calls right so I'm not sure what Del Rio was watching.

But the classless coach wasn't done there. Yesterday, he waxed poetic on the unnecessary hit that Tom Brady took from Jags LB Clint Ingram. Brady went down sliding, and Ingram came in late head-first, folding Brady's back like an accordion. Brady missed one down, then was back on the field. While the talk of the last couple of days has centered around whether Ingram should be fined for spearing, here's Coach Jack's idiotic take, courtesy of Jacksonville's website. Maybe Del Rio will end up getting fined for his inflammatory comments. Best of all, it looks like his lame team will be playing golf real soon - but Jack's pleased with their record over the last four years. Loser.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Day After

Ah, one of my favorite days on the calendar - the chaos and hype has died down, the house is littered with toys, wrapping paper and ribbons, the crazies are out there trying to return the stuff they didn't want, and I'm sitting here at home on the first day of my annual Christmas/New Year's vacation, listening to the chuckleheads on the radio talk about the upcoming NFL playoffs. Oh, and the wife and kids are up at the in-laws this morning. Pure heaven, I tell you.

About those NFL playoffs. Our Patriots have assumed their given spot in this year's dance, and will be either the third or fourth seed in the AFC. This means they'll host a playoff game the weekend of January 6-7, with the opponent most likely being a) Denver or, less likely, b) the Jets of Eric Mangenius.

Of course, the Pats got there with a sweet win on Sunday (football on Christmas Eve RULES) against the tough Jacksonville Jaguars. This one was entertaining as hell. The Pats got off to a quick lead, but let the Jaguars back in at the end. It had diving TD catches by backup tight ends, electric runs by both teams' running backs, impressive piloting from Brady, back and forth ref calls, missed field goals, and - for good measure - a mini-Tuck Rule controversy at the end of the game that went in our favor. If you were gathered with family and friends - and tipping a few back - it was a lot of fun to watch, even if the last couple of minutes tested your buzz.

What's more, while the Pats didn't blow out a quality team, they did beat a quality AFC team on their own turf. With two weeks to go before the playoffs, New England stands as good a chance as anyone to be playing the Tomlinsons in the AFC title game. They're getting healthier at the right time (both Rodney Harrison and Laurence Maroney returned on Sunday, and Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson should be ready for the post-season) and while Brady hasn't been sharp this year, he seems to be developing a better rapport with his Whitman's sampler of receivers. As Mike Reiss points out in the Globe today, the Pats went back to ball distribution against the Jaguars, with Brady involving all receievers in the game plan - much like the demolition job they did on the Vikings on that Monday night earlier in the year. In other words, the Pats are right where they've always been this time of year - eyeing a strong postseason run with the hopes (albeit more distant in this Year of the Charger) of adding more hardware to the Gillette Stadium lobby.

As fans, that's really all we can ask for isn't it?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Season's Beatings (NFL, Week 16)

Things started off so promising last week. Through the first nine games I picked, I was 8-1 and things were looking mighty rosey. Then it got ugly quick (thanks, Saints) and I finished 1-6 over the final seven. A true closer I am. Anyway, that puts the season record at 99-105-5. In the NFL's never-ending quest to put football on as many days of the week as they can, we've already had a Thursday and a Saturday game. I would have taken the Packers Thursday night (and would've lost against the spread) and I would have taken the Chiefs last night (a win). So the mark is even heading into what promises to be a great Christmas Eve day of pigskin. Think about it - you're gathered with family, you're just getting ready to strangle your annoying-as-hell sister in law, and then the Pats come on the tube. Thank you, NFL, and Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good bet.

New England (+3) @Jacksonville: Let's get the big one out of the way. There are four games on the board today that should be entertaining - this one, Buffalo vs. Tennessee, the Pittsburgh-Baltimore bloodbath, and Denver-Cincy. The Patriots always play well when they absolutely have to, and while the Jaguars physicality (is that a word) scares me, David Garrard (a new member of the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars) doesn't. And their hummel, Fred Taylor, is sitting this one out. On the other side, we may see the return of Rodney Harrison and Laurence Maroney. I'm going with the Patriots to seal the AFC East and put themselves in the dance for the 27th year in a row. (TV, CBS, 1:00)

@Pittsburgh (-3.5) vs. Baltimore: Lots of folks are going with Baltimore, thinking the white-hot Steelers are due for a meltdown, but I'm not buying it. The Steelers still have something to play for, they're at home, and Bill Cowher deserves strong coach of the year consideration after the pitiful start these guys got off to. An old-time football game goes to the Steelers.

Carolina (+6.5) @Atlanta: I can't take the Falcons giving six and a half, ever, never. I hate them, and I can't imagine what it's like to be a Falcons fan. Carolina has been a huge disappointment this year (want a mulligan on that Super Bowl pick (Panthers vs. Dolphins) SI? The Panthers find a way to cover.

@Detroit (+5.5) vs. Chicago: There's nothing left to do in ChiTown but wait to see how bad Rex Grossman performs in the playoffs. In Detroit, the push is on to try and save Matt Millen's job - or is it? Wait, maybe I want a mulligan on this one. I'll stick with the Lions.

Indy (-9) @Houston: Indy is revving it back up just in the (St.) nick of time. There are still huge questions about their defense, but if Peyton and the boys can click like they did last week against the Bengals, the D can be soft and they can still win. The Colts are still playing for good seeding, so they'll demolish the Texans.

New Orleans (+3) @NY Giants: Two Jekyll and Hyde teams, and I wanted to kill the Saints last week. The way to succeed in picking NFL games this year? Take the big story/performance from last week and bet against it this week. The Saints have already backed into the playoffs and the Giants have been playing must-win games since October. I just don't think Eli Manning is good. Saints are the pick.

@Cleveland (-3) vs. Tampa Bay: Yucccch. Browns. Because we have to.

@Buffalo (-4.5) vs. Tennessee: Okay, this is a problem. These two teams have been stories for a couple of weeks now, with Losman-Evans and the tenacious D carrying the Bills, and Vince Young's legs carrying the Titans. This should be a pretty fun ballgame, but I think the Bills are more balanced on both sides of the ball. They get the call.

@St. Louis (-2) vs. Washington: Yucccch, part two. Rams. Because we have to.

@San Francisco (-4) vs. Arizona: Another guy who deserves coach of the year is Mike Nolan of the 49ers. San Fran hasn't been in the race all year long, but man they've been competitive. Maybe that's all Frank Gore, but it has to be more. It's the essence of moreness. (TV, FOX, 4:00)

@Denver (-3) vs. Cincinnati: While the skiiers here in the northeast complain about no snow, Denver just got about 15 feet of the stuff in the span of three days. People were stranded at Denver International Airport. The Bengals left on Tuesday in buses and are due to arrive at Mile High just before game time. They'll get whipped by the new John Elway and the Broncos. (TV, CBS, 4:00)

@Seattle (+4) vs. San Diego: This is where I'm going against a big story from last week. I know - the Chargers have been a big story all year long, but they may have peaked last week. Don't get me wrong - I like them and super-back LT in the playoffs, especially at home, but I'm thinking the Seahawks and their rabid fans might steal one here.

Philadelphia (+7) @Dallas: Game one of a Christmas Day doubleheader. The Cowboys, after being the story du jour the last few weeks, have come back to earth at the same time Jerry Garcia has been leading the Eagles back into playoff contention. I keep thinking about all those hardened Eagles bloggers who buried their team the day Donovan McNabb and his torn ACL were carted off the field. My how things have changed in a hurry. Philly's playing with renewed passion, and they should cover the 7 here. (TV, NBC, 5:00)

NY Jets (+1) @Miami: I'm picking both home favorites to lose. A must-win game for the Jets and they will find a way in a tough place to play. (TV, ESPN, 8:30)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Theo's Shopping List, NFL Week #15

Capping off a busy week in the nation, Sox GM Theo Epstein yesterday announced the signings of two setup men, both of whom toiled for the Angels last season. They traded minor league lefty Phil Seibel for Brendan Donnelly, and they also picked up lefty J.C. Romero, who was previously mentioned in trade talks with the Twins for the since departed Bill Mueller. One thing about Theo - once he sets his sights on a player, he's pretty damn persistent. Both Donnelly and Romero have probably had their best years, but they're still good pickups, and now the Sox may be able to move a young reliever to find the final piece on their off-season shopping list -- a bona fide closer. If Theo can somehow snag Chad Cordero from the Nationals, they become a clear-cut favorite in the AL.

Now let's talk some pigskin. After a promising start, last week's record finished at 9-7, so the season total is now 90-98-5. I am determined to get to .500. The 49ers came through on Thursday night so we're already one up. We've also got some Saturday night football on tap.

Dallas (-3.5) @ Atlanta: After getting embarrassed on national TV last Sunday night (what does Saints coach Sean Payton have against the Tuna? The onside kick was salt in the wound), look for Dallas to bounce back. Atlanta has started to play better, but the Cowboys simply have more talent on both sides of the ball. (TV, Saturday, NFL Network, 8 p.m.)

@Baltimore (-11.5) vs. Cleveland: The Art Modell Memorial Bowl series continues. I'm hesitant to take the Ravens laying this many points, but the Browns are trying to put themselves into the Brady Quinn sweepstakes. They have been God-awful lately. Meanwhile, Air McNair showed signs of his old self last week. Go with the Ravens.

@Green Bay (-5) vs. Detroit: I really like the Pack in this one. Last game of the year at Lambeau, Favre wants to put on a good show, facing a division rival that just lost its No. 1 running back. All signs point to a fairly decisive Green Bay win.

@New England (-11) vs. Houston: Last week's loss was hands down the most pathetic offensive display I've seen in the Belichick/Brady Era. The entire team looked like it had spent the previous night dancing on the bar at Mango's in South Beach. It's also been an interesting week for Brady. He called out his team on Wednesday, then ended his relationship with actress Bridget Moynahan. She's cute and all, but personally I've always felt he could do better. It says here the Patriots respond in a big way. And Tom and Bridge will be just fine. (TV, CBS, 1 p.m.)

@Tennessee (+3.5) vs. Jacksonville: Both teams have been playing well, and if form holds this should be an exciting game to watch. The Jaguars could be the proverbial team nobody wants to play in the postseason, but I'll ride the Vince Young bandwagon for at least one more week. The Titans are the call, and it easily could come down to a field goal.

@Buffalo (-1) vs. Miami: Who the hell knows? Both teams can look good, both can look dreadful. Could be a letdown game for the Dolphins, so I'll take the Bills to win at home.

NY Jets (+3) @ Minnesota: Both teams are still alive for a playoff spot. The Jets have had a roller-coaster year, but they've been able to bounce back from tough losses like last week's thumping at the hands of the Bills. The Vikings put it all together last week against the cowardly Lions, and may be starting to find a groove. In the end, I think a decent AFC team beats a decent NFC team. Jets are the call.

Pittsburgh (-2) @ Carolina: Not sure what the status is on Jake Delhomme's thumb injury but if the Steelers are facing Chris Weinke, this could get ugly. You have to give Bill Cowher credit. His team won't be playing in January, but he's still finding a way to get them fired up to win. I'll take the Steelers.

@Chicago (-13) vs. Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers may as well be sacrificial lambs heading into the Colosseum to meet their violent end. The Bucs are celebrating their 30th anniversary in style. Even though the Bears have nothing to play for, this should be a shellacking.

@New Orleans (-10) vs. Washington: Their performance last Sunday night showed just how good the Saints can be when they're clicking on all cylinders. They absolutely destroyed the Cowboys in Big D, and they did it without Joe Horn. Drew Brees should be the league's MVP this season. All they need is for their defense to be average and they could make a strong run from here on out. The Saints will keep the good times rolling.

@Arizona (+3) vs. Denver: Would you ever imagine that the lowly Cardinals would be underdogs by only three to the Denver Broncos? Arizona plays well in front of the hometown patrons, and look for Matt Leinart to outduel fellow rook Jay Cutler.

@NY Giants (-5.5) vs. Philadelphia: The Giants have gone through their near-death experience and lived to tell about it. They're getting healthier and should take this one against their hated rival. If they don't, Tom Coughlin's going to pop a forehead vein. (TV, Fox, 4:00)

Oakland (-2) @ St. Louis: Wow, has St. Louis fallen quickly in the last several years. This current Rams edition bears absolutely no resemblance to the great Ram teams of the late '90's and early '00's. I'm not saying the Raiders are any great shakes, either, but they will beat the hapless Rams.

@San Diego (-9) vs. Kansas City: Think there'll be a few handoffs in this game? LT should pad his new NFL touchdown record, and LJ may rise to the occasion to show the world that he's pretty good too. In the end, the Chargers beat a division rival at home convincingly. San Diegans can't wait for the playoffs to start. (TV, 8:00, NBC)

Cincinnati (+3.5) @ Indianapolis: Best Monday night game of the year, which isn't saying much. The Bengals have been in a major groove, while the Colts have been obliterated by injuries and can't seem to find their winning ways. Great QB matchup. Carson Palmer and the Bengals take it. (TV, Monday, ESPN, 8:30)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sox Get Their Man

Hello, Boston. After a whirlwind courtship involving the standard posturing, surprise cross-country trips, and a suitcase full of cold, hard cash, the Red Sox finally landed their man yesterday. As a Nation waited with bated breath - and clicked repeatedly on for hourly updates - the news quickly spread that Japanese gunslinger Daisuke Matsuzaka had indeed boarded John Henry's plane with Theo and Larry for the trip back to Boston - essentially meaning that a deal was thisclose. Eager newshounds could even track the friggin' flight as it made its trek home. In the end, the Dice-man agrees to a 6-year, $52 million deal, meaning the Red Sox have ponied up a total of more than $103 million for a man who's never stepped foot on a big league mound.

That said, there is unbridled excitement in the Hub over this deal and count me as being totally on board. D-Mat was immediately indoctrinated in the frenzy that is Red Sox baseball - with news cameras recording his every move - but he seems like a guy who not only can handle the attention, but can thrive in this environment. One other interesting side note - the circus that is sure to follow his every step may take some of the glare off our mercurial left fielder.

In other news, the Sox officially welcomed Julio Lugo to the fold, and just have to work out some last-minute details in J.D. Drew's contract. The rumors about Rocket Roger continue, and Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal suggests today that the Sox wouldn't be averse to trading Josh Beckett for a proven closer. Never a dull minute in the Nation. And we're loving every minute of it.

(Quick NFL note -- The Seahawks are playing the Niners tonight and are favored by 9. I'll go with the 'dog getting the points.)

(Boston Globe/ photo)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Humble Pie (Week 14 NFL Picks)

That's what I get for puffing out my chest and actually implying that I may know what I'm doing when it comes to picking these crazy-ass games. Nobody does. MSNBC's resident expert - former Cowboy tight end Jay Novacek - is 126-66 in games picked this year, but the pansy doesn't do spreads, just winners. Lame prick. For me, it's been two steps forward, five steps back all year long. Last week was totally back-asswards as I went a gaudy 4-12. This puts the season mark at 81-91-5.

Sadly, my loss column has already grown by 1 this week as I took the Cleveland Browns (the Cleveland Browns) to cover 9 against the Steelers on Thursday night. Bad idea. Here are some more (probable) bad ideas for Week #14.

Baltimore (+3) @ Kansas City: Both teams are coming off terrible losses, and I understand the Chiefs have a college-like home field advantage at Arrowhead Stadium. Poor Larry Johnson gets no pub thanks to LT's heroics this year in San Diego. This game comes down to who the better team is, and I'm thinking you're going to see a better overall effort from the Ravens than we saw last Thursday night. They've had plenty of time to regroup.

Atlanta (-3) @ Tampa Bay: The Falcons have been the epitome of a Jekyll and Hyde teams this year. They finally won a game decisively last week and they still have something to play for. They should school the Bucs' rookie QB. I'm going with a hungry Atlanta squad.

@Detroit (-1.5) vs. Minnesota: Another Norris Division battle. Yes, the Patriots freely admitted they were lethargic last Sunday, but if you watched the game, you also had to be impressed with some of the Lions' offensive plays. Dat crazy Mike Martz knows what he's doing.

Tennessee (+1) @ Houston: If they had a mulligan, do you think the Texans would consider taking Vince Young - or even Reggie Bush - over Mario Williams with the No. 1 pick? If they didn't, the entire scouting department should be shown the door. Then you find that Young is from the Houston area, and it blows your mind that they didn't take him. Think of all the tickets he'd sell. Supposedly, this game is the most sought-after ticket since the Texans' opener several years ago, and word has it the angry locals are going to be cheering for the Titans and their electric QB. It could get a bit awkward in the Texans' owners box today.

@Jacksonville (+1) vs. Indianapolis: I'm going with a mild upset here. The Colts haven't been playing good ball lately, and the Jags know they're on a tight leash if they want to be playing when it really counts. Peyton and his band of receivers will get their stats today, but the Jags imposing D will make yards tough to come by for Colts RB Joseph Addai.

NY Giants (E) @ Carolina: An intriguing matchup to say the least. Two talented teams spiraling downward, scratching and clawing to make the playoffs. And yet lots and lots of warts on both sides. Jake Delhomme's hurting but he'll play today - the stakes are too high. Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams is rapidly becoming a weapon, but if Michael Strahan is back today - as some think he will be - that gives the Giants an extra push at the line. Giants are the pick, but it should be an entertaining game.

@Cincinnati (-10.5) vs. Oakland: Next to the Chargers and the Cowboys, the Bengals may be playing the best on both sides of the ball right now. Carson Palmer is the definition of a pro quarterback. They will whip the Raiders, the only question is by how much. If the game was in Oakland, I'd think twice about the Raiders putting up a better fight. They'll go down hard today as Cincy continues to steamroll toward a playoff berth.

Philadelphia (-1) @ Washington: The Battle of Who Cares? Philly snuck out a last-minute win against Carolina on Monday night and they've had a short week to get ready. The Redskins are making coach Joe Gibbs daydream about NASCAR. Who knows which way this ugly game will turn. Because we have to select one team, we'll pin our hopes on the Eagles.

New England (-3.5) @ Miami: This is traditionally a tough game, but coming off last week's sleepwalk victory over Detroit, something tells me Coach Bill will have his guys ready to play better in a road division game. Laurence Maroney is officially out of this one, so we may see the Pats' depth at RB today. Miami will hang tough, but the Patriots pull away in the end. (TV, CBS, 1:00)

@San Francisco (-4.5) vs. Green Bay: I can just hear Chris Berman's angle on this one. A matchup of two former dynasties who have fallen on hard times. Steve Young is now analyzing the games next to Berman, while Favre's still calling the shots for the woeful Packers. And therein lies the problem. The 49ers have shown promise this year, and RB Frank Gore is emerging as the real deal. The Pack, well, they've shown up... kind of. San Francisco takes it.

Seattle (-3) @ Arizona: After their big win in Denver last Sunday night, the Seahawks are playing with renewed confidence with both Hasselbeck and Alexander back on the field. Everyone keeps talking about the Bears and the Cowboys in the pathetic NFC, but I think the Seahawks may be coming together at just the right time. Look for them to win by 7 in the desert. (TV, FOX, 4:00)

@NY Jets (-3.5) vs. Buffalo: Wish I had a dish so I could watch this one. This should be a pretty good ballgame. The Jets have been playing well and the Bills have been holding their own. A battle of two good defenses here, but I'll take Chad Pennington over J.P. Losman. J-E-T-S.

@San Diego (-7.5) vs. Denver: The consensus is that the Chargers are the best team in football, despite the spotty record of their coach. LaDainian Tomlinson is in a league of his own. The Chargers also play very well at home, and would like nothing better than to secure a first-round bye. Denver, meanwhile, is still trying to adjust to their new QB. Let's just say he didn't look very good in his debut last week against Seattle. (TV, 4:15, CBS)

New Orleans (+7.5) @ Dallas: With the new flexible TV schedule - in which NBC can have their pick of games - who would have ever thought they'd pick the Saints? The Cowboys have been playing out of their minds, and the Saints have already clinched most improved team of 2006. Logic says the Cowboys have to submit a subpar performance soon. I think Dallas wins this one, but I'll take the Saints to cover. (TV, 8:15, NBC)

@St. Louis (+6) vs. Chicago: Finally, a somewhat decent Monday Nighter. It's fun to watch the weekly car crash that is Rex Grossman. The Bears should win a tight one, but six points is too much for a Grossman-led offense to cover. I'm going with the Rams. (TV, 8:30, ABC)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


I've never considered myself a contrarian - to the contrary, actually - but I think I may be in the minority regarding the popular vote on yesterday's acquisitions of OF J.D. Drew and SS Julio Lugo. Forget about the ridiculous dollars for a moment, and don't compare J.D. to the other J.D. Different market, different year, and the long-haired J.D. is absolutely kicking himself over his poor timing. And let's forget about the ludicrous revolving door we've seen at shortstop since 2004.

Instead, let's focus on the present. The Red Sox could not go into the 2007 season with either Jason Varitek or Mike Lowell or Wily Mo Pena as their No. 5 hitter. There was nothing worse last year than watching Manny and Ortiz get on, and then become part of the LOB ledger. And it happened A LOT. Could they have plugged Bobby Abreu nicely into that slot? Absolutely, but after watching the erratic pitching last year, I truly believe that Theo assessed matters at the trading deadline and made the call that his team was going to be golfing in October. So he decided to pass on the Abreu/Cory Lidle package, the latter of whom has since tragically perished in a plane crash.

Surveying the free agents on the market this off-season, Theo wanted that No. 5 bat and he also wanted to improve the outfield defense, which was positively atrocious last year. The guy who gave him the most ability in both areas? J.D. Drew. If he stays healthy, and I understand what a huge 'if' that is, fans will come to appreciate his skills with the glove and he'll be a more than adequate five-hitter. In a way, and Chad at Touching All the Bases brings this up, maybe the atmosphere in Boston will make him even better than he's been. I'll take 140 GP, .280 BA, 15-20 HRs, 80-90 RBIs, and a solid glove. Is that worth $14M per? Is anything?

Lugo has long been the apple of Theo's eye, and most pundits really can't figure out why. He will not make us forget Alex Gonzalez anytime soon in the field, but Theo seemed bent on improving the offense from 1 through 9 and Lugo helps to accomplish that. He brings an element of speed to the table, and people are forgetting that he's played virtually his entire career with a glorified Triple-A team. Put him in a real major league lineup and let's see what he can before we judge. If Coco can regain his 2005 form, it will make Lugo that much better. Those two could be fun to watch at the top of the order.

As for the Manny charade, the latest scuttlebutt is that the man-child is staying. I applaud Theo for sticking to his guns and trying to get best value. For all his warts, you can't let this guy go for average talent. There's still a chance that he moves on, but the latest signals coming from Disney World indicate that teams are backing off. If Manny does leave, the signing of Drew becomes much more questionable.

The next steps? Signing Dice-K and finding someone to close the deal on his surefire 20 wins (ok, I'll settle for 17). Eric Gagne's name has been bandied about. A lower-base, incentive-laden deal could be intriguing.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Nostradamus-san (NFL picks, Week 13)

In the spirit of the sudden movement to sign Japanese ballplayers to come work in the Hub, I offer you this Japanese term to describe the trend line in my NFL predictions: kaizen. That's right, gradual improvement. Two weeks ago, it was 9-7. Last week, 10-6. So the pressure is on to go 11-5 this week. The season mark has climbed to 77-79-5. One small disclaimer before we get to the picks. I didn't get this up in time for the Thursday night Cincy-Baltimore bore-a-thon, but I have my witnesses who will vouch for the fact that I liked the Bengals giving three points. So I'm counting that one as a win.

Minnesota (+9) @ Chicago: I think the Bears win this battle of Norris Division rivals, but the Vikings cover the 9. Back when Rex was on a roll - which seems like eons ago - the Bears steamrolled the Vikes and some Minnesota players took issue with Grossman's trash-talking during that game. Can you imagine Rex Grossman trash-talking anyone? Anyway, the Vikings are using Rex's actions for motivation this week which could translate into a modereately competitive game. If Grossman submits another dud, it will be fascinating to see if the 'play Griese' debate ratchets up.

@Pittsburgh (-7) vs. Tampa Bay: This one's tough to call because both squads are D-O-N-E. Two fiery coaches in Cowher and Gruden. Two QB's who played their college ball for small Ohio schools - Roethlisberger at Miami and Gradkowski at Toledo. And two good RB's in Willie Parker and Cadillac Williams. If both teams had played to their recent standards, this would be one of the better games on the board. Sadly, it just doesn't matter. Take the Steelers at home just for pride's sake.

@St. Louis (-6.5) vs. Arizona: The Rams are still alive by the slimmest of margins so this one's a call for the team that still has something to play for. The Denny Green death march moved into a new phase this week, with breathless rumors that USC coach Pete "Jacked and Pumped" Carroll might be a good fit in the desert with Matt Leinart. Honestly, if you were Pete Carroll - and could recruit anyone you want and hang around with a bevy of hot Southern Cal women - would you go coach a crappy football team run by an inept owner? Money talks, but I think I'd stay in Cali. PS: Has anyone seen Edgerrin James?

Indianapolis (-7.5) vs. Tennessee: The Colts looked awfully efficient Sunday night against a depleted Eagles team, and that was with Peyton handing off more than he actually passed. Joseph Addai officially announced his presence with authority. The Titans have been playing everyone tough, and Vince Young is going to be a treat to watch for many years to come - but I'm thinking Indy wants to put on a better show than the last time they met the Titans, when they won by one point in Week 5.

@Miami (-1) vs. Jacksonville: If Joey Harrington hasn't caught a cold from his Gatorade shower on Thanksgiving vs. the Lions, this one should go down as a W for the Dolphins. They're not going to be playing in the Big Game in their own city - as some national publications predicted - but they have been playing better. Plus, Jacksonville just plain sucks. I hate them and their stupid, suit-wearing coach. (see explanatory comments in Tennessee vs. Houston, Week 8)

@New Orleans (-7) vs. San Francisco: The Saints have a one-game lead on the Jekyll and Hyde Panthers, and they should be ready to protect that lead at home against San Francisco. Speaking of suit-wearing coaches, with 49er man Mike Nolan be decked out again? I'd love to see a weekly theme - maybe this week wear the Bear Bryant houndstooth hat to cap it off. Designed by Reebok, of course.

@Washington (-1.5) vs. Atlanta: The Redskins' win over Carolina last week made you wonder what the wise guys in Vegas knew that the rest of us jamokes didn't. The Panthers were favored by 6 on Monday and the line gradually shrank down to 4. I'll go with the 'Skins in this one, as they'll give the double-bird to Mike Vick and the fraudulent Falcons.

Kansas City (-5.5) @ Cleveland: The Chiefs are my pick of the week. I still haven't gotten my arms around Larry Johnson's white coach/black coach comments (something about how it's hard for black players to take orders from white coaches?) so don't know what effect that hubbub might have on the game - which coincidentally pits two black coaches in Herm Edwards and Romeo Crennel. I just know the Chiefs have been playing pretty well and the Browns are in a state of disarray.

@New England (-13.5) vs. Detroit: Little bit reluctant to give this many points because the Patriots typically don't blow anyone out. But then my mind goes back to the Green Bay thumping, and we all know the Lions are way worse than the Packers. After all, Matt Millen - the guy who infamously battled with Pats' owner Pat Sullivan 30 years ago - is still somehow calling the shots in Motown. This could be ugly, and we could see Tommy Brady laughing and joking on the bench by the start of the fourth.

San Diego (-6) @ Buffalo: Along with the Pats and Chiefs, the Chargers are my next favorite pick this week. They tangled in a close one with the Raiders last week and this week they're getting Shawne Merriman back. They're also vying for a playoff bye and home-field advantage, and they're 5-0 at home. Lots on the line. LaDainian Tomlinson. Chargers.

NY Jets (-1) @ Green Bay: As much as it pains me to say this, I'm impressed with what the Jets and Eric Mangini have done this year, especially their defense. Green Bay is coming off a short week, which is always tough. I like the Jets to keep hope alive.

Dallas (-3.5) @ NY Giants: There's a tide of thought that thinks the Giants rise from the ashes this week and that the Cowboys have to lose sometime. I just can't logically see it happening this week. Of all the NFC slop, Dallas has looked the best by a long shot over the last four weeks. They also don't have Vanderjerk to kick around anymore.

@Oakland (-3) vs. Houston: Can you imagine being an underdog to the Oakland Raiders? What a slap. I can't bring myself to offer any coherent thoughts on this one, which will probably end up being the greatest game in the rich history of the National Football League.

@Denver (-4) vs. Seattle: Mile High or whatever the hell it's called these days will be buzzing for the long-awaited debut of Jay Cutler. Seattle got its thoroughbreds back last week, so this should be a very fun, competitive game. The Broncos take it on the backs of their rowdy fans and their new-found QB.

Carolina (-3) @ Philadelphia: Carolina's like a box of chocolates. They should be truffles on Monday night against Jeff Freaking Garcia and the Eagles. Take the Panthers and the three. But don't hold me to it.

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